Chad Miller's weblog


Here’s my card. *click*

It should be dead simple for one person to give out one’s contact details.

I carry around cards with that info, but we should have come up with something better since Victorian times, surely.

QR code on phone exterior

So, I demand that someone start making replacement shells for the rears of mobile phones. They should be ~$10 and have machine-readable info on them.

Here’s my attempt at a way to give away my name, phone, email addr, and web site addr. Custom stickers cost about $4 each. A good portion of smart phones understand QR codes these days.

If you mimic this idea, learn from my mistake and leave some contrasting white border around the edges if your shell is dark. It takes a few extra seconds and angles to read my black on gray.

2010-04 Android Software Recommendations

I’ve been using Android for a while, and while I’m no app fiend, i do have some suggestions for friends who are new to the platform.

  • Contact Owner, put contact details on lock-screen.
  • Swype ($?), replacement keyboard.
  • Google Voice
  • Google Maps, (there are updates since the default).
  • Seesmic, Twitter client.
  • Gowalla, useless “Kilroy was here”.
  • Shazam, look up music by its sound.
  • Barcode Scanner
  • Flashlight
  • Pandora, play music over the net.
  • Spy Satellites ($), see satellites going overhead. (I wrote this.)
  • reddit is fun
  • Toss It (Preview), physics game.
  • aLogcat, browse and send system logs. Useful for reporting bugs in apps.
  • Android IRC ($)
  • Earth (from Google)
  • Retro Defense, towers game.
  • Flickroid, Flickr upload conduit.
  • Open Table, reserve tables in restaurants.
  • Places Directory, find businesses nearby by class.
  • Compass
  • GOdroid, play Go against the computer.

Oh, and if you have Android 2.1, then you may find it useful to go to Settings, Accounts & Sync, and add a Facebook account to get your friends’ contact info, as they style it. If they change it, it changes in your phone.

This list will probably be completely different in a few months, but this is my snapshot as of April 2010.

Piracetam Experiment, Week 1

The temptation to fill this post with bad grammar and misspellings, all while claiming wonderful results, was nearly overwhelming.

After my days of big doses, I changed to one 800 mg pill per day for a week. The early results are in! I didn’t notice any change.

On experiment-days 9 and 10, I missed my doses. I guess that attests to memory changes better than unmeasured assertions does.

I’ll continue for another few weeks.

Piracetam Experiment, On Quantifying Results and Days 2 and 3

I feel a little guilty about using “experiment” in the title, since I value science so much. This brings me to a problem: How do I really know if it makes a difference?

I thought about trying to solve the same kind of puzzle each day, and measuring the time it takes me. The flaw in that is that I learn. I’d be practicing continually, and it would be astonishing if I didn’t get better at it.

It is important to quantify any changes piracetam evokes. The drug is not free. How worthwhile is it, for an unquantifiable gain? Is 40 cents per pill an acceptable cost to pay, when you can’t know what you’re getting in exchange?

For me, instead of taking tests, I’m going to try to behave as normally as I can, and instead of looking for improvement in amount that I am able to do, I will watch how easy it is for me to do my normal work. I think I will notice if my normal work-flow becomes less of a burden. This doesn’t really count as a real measurement because of two reasons: It’s subjective. My work is not limited by another means; my brain is already the rate-limiter so it’s entirely possible that I feel the same amount of stress and drain, even though my throughput changes.

If that is the case, that I don’t feel better about my work, then I consider piracetam a failure. I do value producing more, but what I’m really after is the “hack mode” feeling that my work becomes easier.

So, I’m totally cheating on the quantification question by saying “it will have to make me feel like I’m working easier.” I know. Bad scientist, bad!

Day 2 was pretty normal. I did have a breakthrough in something, but that is normal. I just started a new job last week, and there are plenty of roadblocks that only seem harder because I’m still finding my footing.

I did spend nearly 12 hours at my desk that day. My wife was out of town for the afternoon and evening, and I didn’t feel like stopping until she returned home. So, day 2 was a little weird, and I want to be careful, so my verdict is that it was too strange to be evaluated.

Day 3 is starting out normal. It’s the weekend and I’ll have a baby in my lap all day, so I won’t work today. So far, I do not feel a change.

Sleep is normal. Diet is unchanged. Emotional states are about average.

Piracetam Experiment, Prologue and Day 1

It’s pretty well-known that getting older and settling down dulls the brain. Aging past 25 years or so, or getting married, tends to kill productivity in many brainy disciplines, the most obvious and well-studied being mathematics. With almost no exceptions, if you haven’t done interesting things in maths before your early-30s, you never will.

I’m 33, and I now have a kid and wife. I work in software, where we crave a delicate state of deep, intense concentration (which we call hack mode), which is getting harder and harder for me to find as I age. Fortunately for me, these productive states are not as elusive and ephemeral as it is for mathematicians. Still, my capacity drains away with time.

Lately, I’ve heard about chemicals (I hesitate to call them “drugs”, with all the connotations that brings about efficacy, legality, and such) that affect the thinking meats for the better. A guy coined the name “nootropic” in 1964, and I’ll use that name from now on to refer to them. In particular, some people claim that piracetam, 2-(2-oxopyrrolidin-1-yl)acetamide, aids cognition and memory. There are plenty of studies of piracetam’s effects on sick people, with generally good results and few or no bad side effects. The scientific results for healthy people are still out, but the anecdotes are generally good.

“Good” is a bit vague here. Most are self-administered one-patient “studies” with no control and no good metrics for cognition. Science, it ain’t. But, with no known side-effects and enough people taking it, it can’t hurt to try it, I thought. At worst, I’m out a small amount of money (and enriched a charlatan somewhere in the world). At least it’s not amphetamines, I suppose.

Piracetam is available only as prescribed in many places, but in the US and Canada, the drug authorities have so far taken no position on it, and so it’s available by mail-order or occasionally at vitamin shops.

I bought a bottle of 60 pills off of Amazon with some retailer that has good reviews and a brand that doesn’t have any complaining web pages about them. The pills are 800mg each.

I read that one should take a large dose at first, to ramp the levels to something useful, and then fall back to a smaller dose. At night, with water on an empty stomach I took two pills, to make 1.6 grams. My sleep was normal, and I felt no change.

The following morning, no change also, and I again took 1.6g, at 9AM. I’ll continue this twice-daily two-pill dosage for another two days, then drop back to one 800mg pill, once per day.

Anathem DRM Anathema

I read a lot. I buy most of the books I read. Yesterday, I decided to partcipate in the ongoing experiment of commercial e-books. The book industry should love me.

But they don’t. Evidently HarperCollins hates me and wants to make me mad.

The book I bought, Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, is wrapped in “DRM”, so-called Digital Rights Management. The publisher ostensibly wants to prevent unlimited use of its books, and to do so they wrap the text in cryptographic mumbo-jumbo so that only some devices can decipher them and show the contents to a reader.

A Nokia 770 displays text from a book really nicely.

What do I get for my money? Something I couldn’t use. I use my Nokia 770 to read when traveling and space is precious. My portable book-device can’t read the book I bought because the file they sold me is locked with DRM that my book-device doesn’t understand.

DRM doesn’t stop people who are insistent on breaking off the locks and then copying and redistributing the contents. Those people can never be defeated. DRM only affects people like me—honest people who didn’t get their book/music/movie from a dark alley, but walked into a bright, official store and slapped money down on the counter and walked away with an approved version of the book. If I had downloaded a cracked book, I wouldn’t have a problem.

Essentially, the publisher thinks annoying a significant fraction of its customers is the best way to prop up their business model. It’s worth it to frustrate some of us, in order to prevent everyday people from loaning books like we could do with physical books, they think. Well, I’m never buying another e-book until I know the DRM fad is dead.

I want to read this book on my trip, and I’ve already bought it, and I’m smarter than the average bear, so I spent some time late last night and I broke the locks off the file HarperCollins sold me. If you bought Anathem also and want unencumbered text to read on any device, let me know.

Barcamp Topic: “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis — a cautionary tale”

On Saturday, I participated in Orlando’s Barcamp, dev-day. I spoke early in the day, and I knew from listening to others who talked about the previous Barcamp that my topic would be unusual. Here’s the gist of my talk:

The title is from the philosopher Hippocrates, who lived in Greece, around 400BCE. He was observing that life is brief compared to what we can make and do. How do we know Hippocrates said these words? We have records from that time.

400BCE is relatively young, as “ancient civilizations” go. I gave examples of other civilizations, spanning back to the oldest, of Sumer, 8000 years ago. We know a lot of the Sumerians, and we know a lot of most every literate ancient civilization, but not a lot about one specific civilization. The Egyptian empire lasted from 3100BCE to 50BCE, and though we know a lot about the civilizations before it and the ones after it — we know very little of Egypt. All because of something the Egyptians invented: Paper.

Egyptians put their art on stone, which lasts even until now. They wrote their information on their new technology, which didn’t last more than a generation or so. The civilization that made the African pyramids are much more of a mystery to us than they should be. That’s the cautionary tale, and we should worry about how we are in the same danger.

What will the people of a thousand years from now know of us? Will we be the group that consumed a huge fraction of resources, poisoned the environment, and left behind only a mystery about who, how, why? How long will information about you and me last? 10,000 years? 1000? 100? Even 50? Does that 50 sound preposterous?

Consider: We, in the 21st century are in a much worse predicament than the Egyptians were. We store a large portion of our data on something that is so ephemeral that we’re usually startled to find a device still operational after 10 years. In 2002, we created 5 exabytes of new information. For too much of it, we have no real control over how it’s stored, either because it’s too massive or often because it’s beyond our reach.

Contrast what a budding biographer of now and 80 years in the future would do to publish her grandfather’s letters from war? A child of today would dig up dusty letters out of an attic, but the child of the future will have to ask Yahoo for copies of archived e-mail. Can you imagine what they’re likely to say? “404!”

Yahoo! 404

So, what can we do?

I propose and dismiss “Hope for the Singularity to save it.” Also, “stop making so much.”

Two ideas that may have merit are: Label our data with how unique and important it is likely to be. Make our own version of stone tablets.

Neither of these are particularly hard problems. All we have to do is put a little effort into it, and we’d have a solution to 90% of the problem. This the fun part, and I’ll leave most of it for you, dear reader to think about.

Here are a few of my ideas: 3-D printing of information bricks. Quaternary bits of DNA, in some durable container. Knots are an encoding of a series of hand movements.

Vote for…

“Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” — Winston Churchill

Today, the remaining states finalize their intra-party choices for the Presidential candidacy. We Floridians do not vote today, so there’s probably not a lot that this message could do, but I think I should say it loudly because I’m unusually happy with what I have to say:

If B. Obama is an option on my ballot in November, then I’m voting for him.

I’m usually sick at the idea of making a choice for the high office. No one is good enough. I’ve tried voting for the principled underdog. I’ve tried voting against the evil popular bastard. I’ve cursed the polling ruleset that forced terrible choices upon me.

Finally, with Barack Obama, I’m happy with someone who also happens to be popular.

I’m sad that it took a backlash against jingos to get here. I’m sad that it took weariness of two counterproductive wars to waken us. I’m sad that it took scrapping parts of our fundamental founding documents, like habeas corpus and the first and fourth Amendments. I’m sad that, to frighten us, it took crippling our economy and borrowing many trillions of dollars of money that we can’t pay back in our lifetime. I’m sad that it took looking like gullable morons to the rest of the world for years to embarrass us enough. And more. Much more. I’m sad that we had to burn ourselves on the stove again and again and again and again in order to learn not to touch it. (Though some still haven’t learned. Some never learn.) I’m so sad about the cost we had to pay to finally come to push someone worthwhile onto the stage.

The watchword of this election is “change.” Every candidate claims to want change. (Even if some want the change to be to hold their hands on the stove even longer next time.) I’m weary of the corrupt and the idiotic. I want someone who is moral and smart with whom I may not always agree, over the legion of corrupt puppets who know how to polarize the electorate. The only credible agent of change for the better that I can see is Barack Obama.

Decide for yourself. See:

Obama’s 2004 DNC keynote speech. Part one. Part two.

My hero, L Lessig, details why Obama is his choice and recommendation.

A music video that plays to our emotions more than to intellect, but is still pretty good.

Old post: 2008 US Presidency Outlook .

Why is J-Gosling and Ian Murdoch at My Meeting?

At our Heidelberg dev-meeting a few months ago, Mårten announced that the entire company would meet in mid-January in my town, Orlando, Florida. I was blinded by the thought of coming to the City of Cement and Glitter, after meetings in beautiful places all over the world, like Budapest, Malta, Sorrento, Stockholm, Cancún, Seattle, Helsinki, Budapest, New York — and then coming to where I live. Ugh. How embarassed would I be?

Well once I recovered and gave it thought, I was certain that there would be an announcement of IPO at the meeting. MySQL has been preparing for publicly offering stock for a while. It made so much sense.

Today, the third day of the meeting (for me), I was late to the start. I walked in and it took me 15 full minutes to realize that right then was The Big Event, and it was not what I was expecting.

Instead, Sun Microsystems (ticker JAVA, née SUNW) decided to pay one billion dollars for MySQL. I am shocked and dizzy.

It might not be a complete disaster. Sun has behaved lately like it understands Free software: See GPL Java and OpenSolaris . They seem to understand working at home. They seem to like what MySQL employees are doing. I am cautiously optimistic.

So, I’ll have a “” email address soon. I don’t know if I’ll have to give up chad at mysql dot com. I hope not. I’ll get new business cards. I’ll get access to lots of good hardware.

Maybe it’s not awful. We’ll see.

Moving is Postponed

Our vacation was fantastic. I loved Heidelberg and what I saw of Munich. Ireland wasn’t as great, but had its charm.

But, in our plans to move, money is a big factor. As it is, we can’t afford to live there.

I expect to be paid in US dollars by the “Inc.” company. (I could perhaps move to a European corporation, but that raises other tax-related problems. “Inc.” exists to avoid those, actually.) But, the dollar is tanking. Today, one US dollar trades at less than 0.70 euro. Or, 1 EUR = 1.41US$. That was 1:1 when the euro was introduced, a few years ago.

Compounded on that, Ireland is expensive. If we were moving to Germany, the dollar:euro ratio may be tolerable, but Ireland is expensive even by European standards.

So, our plans to move in three months are postponed, perhaps indefinitely. Sad, sad, sad.